Navigating to and through European countries

When I first arrived in Italy, I had no clue how to travel. I knew I wanted to go places, but how would I get there? It wasn’t until my first weekend trip to Paris that I learned the ins and outs of planning and how to plan better with each trip.

Note: This list is geared for students residing in Italy, specifically Florence, but many tips apply to all study abroad students regardless of host country/city.

  1. How do I get there?

    • Trenitalia: This is the main website to book a train ticket (change the language to English on the upper right hand corner). The main train station in Florence is Santa Maria Novella (type in ‘Firenze S.M. Novella’). You can also buy tickets at the station; there are numerous booths with gypsies at your side asking for change as you punch in your destination. Compare prices online and choose the cheapest fare. They tend to fluctuate so book as early as possible.
    • Italotreno: This is also another option for booking train tickets. Though more expensive, the seats are more comfortable. This train is newer and more modern, but serves limited locations. Compare fares with Trenitalia and buy the cheapest ticket.
    • Ryanair and Easyjet: For booking cheap flights. Don’t expect too much from these airlines. Don’t even expect a snack on the flight. Though I must note, Easyjet is slightly more comfortable than Ryanair. Prices also fluctuate a lot, so again, book as early as possible and clear your cookies often to get the best fares.
    • Terravision: If you book a flight with Ryanair or Easyjet, you’ll most likely be flying out of Pisa Airport. To get to Pisa, you must take a bus. Prices are flat rate so no comparison here. It’s about 10 Euros round-trip (I assume you’d want to get home as well). The bus meeting point is on the left side of the station’s main entrance (behind where the taxis stop).
  1. Where do I stay?
    • Airbnb: This is a community of people offering their house/apartment or a room in their home for travelers. It can sometimes be cheaper and nicer than a hostel.
    • Couchsurfing: For the more adventurous travelers, Couchsurfing is a fantastic way to meet new people (and having a place to stay while you’re at it). Similar to Airbnb, it is a community of people lending their couches (or rooms) in their house/apartment/condo/mansion/shack to travelers. It’s completely free—but be sure the host has a thorough profile with positive references.
    • Hostelworld, Hostelbookers, Europe’s Famous Hostels, STAtravel: Just some hostel booking websites so you don’t sleep on the streets in Budapest.
  1. So I’m here. Now what?
    • Do some research of the city before you go. Jot down some major landmarks and places you want to hit. But most importantly, make sure you know how to get to your hostel/hotel/wherever you are staying before you fly off. But hey, what’s a little bump in the road, right? It just adds to the adventure.
    • Tripadvisor: The Yelp for travelers. It’s a good site to find places to eat, but keep in mind it’s also where all the tourists go too…
    • Your choice of lodging, whether a hostel or an apartment via Airbnb, will normally have good tips on where to go, what to do, what to see, and where to eat. Just ask! If not, go down stairs, walk outside, and ask the nice man passing by, “Where is the best restaurant in town?” Hostels always have some lone travelers. So buddy up and get lost together.
    • Couchsurfing: Regardless if you’re looking for a couch to crash, you can also find locals who are willing to meet and show you around their home country/city. Make a Couchsurfing account and browse what it has to offer. People are more than willing to offer their time and stories to travelers eager to listen. But of course, be smart and trust your instincts. Additionally, if utilizing Couchsurfing, be sure to set enough time before you arrive to plan and coordinate with your fellow surfer (they have lives too!).

Some nifty apps*

  • Google Translate – Enough said.
  • Word Reference – One word: conjugating. If you’re actively learning the language, this app is your best friend.
  • Any app that teaches you basic questions in a foreign language
  • TripAdvisor (and TripAdvisor Offline City Guides) – The app just makes things easier
  • Concur – Travel receipts, expense tracker. Track your expenses as you go instead of all at once at the end. Budget!
  • Triposo – One of the better travel apps, in my opinion
  • If you don’t have access to the Internet/Wi-Fi, download an off-line map app of your city OR you can also do it via Google Maps (instructions here). Downloading offline transit maps (such as bus and metro lines) are also helpful.
  • Postagram, Touchnote, PhotoCard: Send postcards to your friends and family with a personalized photo. This is an inexpensive and quick way to send some love back home. It is cheaper than buying a generic postcard + postage (although I do love handwritten postcards with those picturesque scenes!). I sent postcards using both methods and found that handwritten postcards (especially the vintage looking ones) add a little more warmth, but these apps are great if you’re always on-the-go.

*These apps are available via iPhone App Store and/or Android Google Play. All apps listed are free.

I hope you are now equipped with all the necessary resources. Traveling is all about the experience and learning through trial and error. Dare yourself to venture out to places unknown.

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